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Why is Christmas on December 25th?

The most wonderful time of the year will be upon us in no time. Even though we might still be deflating the pool floaties and stashing away the sunscreen collection, we detect a slight shift to cooler morning temperatures indicating that a change is right around the corner. Christmas is a bright light in the middle of a dark, cold winter, but why is Christmas on December 25th? What happened on that day and why does it get celebrated by so many? 

December 25th is the central holiday to the Christian faith. It celebrates the birth of Jesus, symbolizing to the faithful, that light, in human form, was born into a dark world. But, Jesus’ birth wasn’t celebrated for the first three centuries of Christianity. The central Christian holiday was Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th, commemorating the Magi coming to worship and bring gifts to the baby Jesus. An early Roman calendar, denoting the year 336 AD, makes note of Jesus’ birthday for the first time. 

The word “Christmas” comes from Mass of Christ. Mass is a traditional communion or Eucharist service remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection. This Christ-Mass eventually was shortened to Christmas. It is thought that St. Augustine of Canterbury was the greatest influencer towards the wide-spread celebration of Christmas in England and spreading Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon regions of the country. The church used the Roman Calendar which denoted Christmas as December 25th, so this date became established as Christmas Day. 

However, with conflicting Biblical clues, and no actual known date of Jesus’ birth, the early church made their best guess and Christmas has been celebrated on December 25th ever since. It’s widely thought that this Christian holiday corresponded to disrupt two popular pagan celebrations, honoring one Roman god and one Persian god. 

For centuries Epiphany and Easter were still more widely celebrated Christian holidays. Some cultures even banned the celebration of Christmas claiming the Christmas tree and gift giving was influenced by pagan culture. To the early American colonists, Christmas was considered a British holiday, and due to the American Revolution, Christmas was not widely celebrated. It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that Christmas became a federal holiday in the US. 

Given its stuttered start, Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, is a well-established holiday celebrated my millions across the world. Though traditions, customs and culture surrounding Christmas looks different depending on region, family and faith, December 25th is set in stone as the day the Christmas holiday is celebrated. Other holidays, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Diwali, Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year are other holidays celebrated during winter’s coldest, shortest and darkest days. Each holiday has an element of light at its center. Family gathers, gifts are exchanged, food is shared around a table, and memories are made. Connection with loved ones is where this Christmas light dwells year after year. Even if Christmas wasn’t originally held on December 25th, if this wasn’t the actual date of Jesus’ birthday, the holiday fits the season, and will be an important part of the winter season for a lifetime.

September 16, 2020 by Rachael Mitchell

Written by

Rachael Mitchell

Rachael Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, and has over 15 years of writing experience. She’d never be able to pick just one favorite ornament, but narrowed it down to the S’more and Tennis Ball. She always looks forward to s’mores in the summer with friends and family adding gourmet ingredients, and played 4 years of college tennis in the mid-west.

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